Last week I went to Grassmere to do hiking. Hiking and writing are two things that I equally love and feel scared of. There’s always something beautiful about seeing mountains from the distance and thinking: in two or three hours, I’m going to be at the top. It’s also beautiful to imagine yourself with your own book in your hands: somehow the idea has made its way through paper and words.
But, what happens in between?
1. The desire.
All books and walks start with that desire, curiosity, wanderlust. Your life woul be ten times easier if you just stuck to routine, or job, or the simple things like eating and sleeping. But somehow you’re not enterely satisfied. You need to do something crazy like climb a mountain and write a book. Why? It’s not about survival or being reasonable or realistic. But, who cares? You want to. So that’s why you decide to start up the journey: going towards the mountain or opening a new document in our computer.
2. The peak between the clouds.
You know this moment when you’re still down in the fields and you are surrounded by mountains and an endless sky? You’re still happy and curious but one part of you is thinking: ‘there’s no way I can get so high.’ You want to laugh, turn back, have a couple of drinks in the local pub and go home to watch a film. It’s also easier to turn on TV than defy the blank space of the page. But it’s not going to happen – leaving – because the peak between the clouds is still too fascinating. Too attractive.
Now it starts the fun part. The village and the field behind, you can just see one hill after the other. It might be easy at the beginning, but you know this is just the start of hours of struggling between you and the mountain. And then, zas!, you discover a beautiful view. Because that’s the joy of writing and hiking, the sublime might just be around the corner. Just as I started climbing in Grassmere I discovered this beautiful place where the mountains reflected in a big lake creating another world down the waters. The same way, once one starts writing a piece there is always an initial revelation.
4. No way back.
There’s always a point when you find yourself climbing using hands, feet and mouth if necessary. You try not to look down – there are just crags and cliffs – and focus in each little step. The hand here, the feet there. I imagine myself going down, breaking my neck, or my leg, or even dying. ‘Young writer ends her days in the Lakes.‘ I can already read that in the local news. And, most important, I know there’s no way back. I would like to say: OK, I’m going home. But I know there’s no way I try to go down through those risks again, so the only solution is to keep going until the top (even if it seems there’s never going to be one). The same happens when have passed the mid point of your novel: you cannot leave it there even if what you have produced so far feels like crap…
5. The peak?
After the difficult part, when you believed you would never make it, comes ‘the peak’. And I’m saying it like this because it’s never ‘the peak’. THE peak is still a little bit further away but at this point you need to sit down, enjoy the (already) astonishing views and take your time to eat some well-deserved lunch. This break always feels like the best part of the hiking. All the previous suffering is forgotten and you feel truly grateful for being alive. In writing happens something similar when you finish the first draft of your novel or piece. You feel you have done it, you feel like a hero. There’s still so much way ahead, but for a brief time it feels like a nice conclusion. The idea is already on the paper. The thoughts have turn into letters. Now, it’s good to remember we need to keep walking. If you stay too long high in the mountain just looking at the views you start feeling really, really cold and dump. In writing, the first draft is merely the door to editing and rewriting. So let’s keep going!
6. THE peak!
This can be a tedious part in the hiking. You had lunch but the hills are still there, one after the other. You start thinking why you bother about climbing, I mean, you already got the nice views and all, does it pay off to get to the peak? Who’s going to care in the end? When you are telling the adventures of the hiking to your friends next day you can always say you reached the peak anyways. I always tell myself these things when I’m dragging my body to the peak. It never seems good enough to deserve the effort at that point. In a novel, the editing process can be equally grueling. You always reach the point in which you just want to throw the whole damn thing into the bin, I mean, who cares? The world already got Shakespeare and Clive Barker and José Antonio Cotrina. But then…
Then you reach THE peak. And I’m not going to explain but that feels about because if you have reached THE peak in hiking and writing you already know it and if not… you need to discover it for yourself.
7. Missing the hills.
Yep. Remember all that suffering when climbing? You never thought you would miss such a thing, would you? Well, there’s just something worse than going up murderous hills… and that’s going down. Becasue the possibilities of sliding and suffering a bloody death increase in 267%. In writing this is the moment when you want to put your piece out there and realise than the process of getting it published is much worse than getting it written. Because there are so many things you cannot control and don’t depend at all on you. It’s part luck but part hard-effort – believe, if something I’m learning from interviewing authors in The Writing Life is that all of them worked incredibly hard before they had that ‘lucky’ coincidence or encounter with an agent/editor. So even if you feel you’ll die, go slow but don’t stop. You need to get out of the mountain (or get your story out there) at any price. That’s why you climbed it in the first place!
8. Those sweet vallies.
And finally you’re down there. You find the path and everything is easy, too easy in fact. The mountain is behind and you already miss it. You feel happy with yourself but already start thinking about the next hiking, and promise yourself you’ll do it as soon as possible because damn it, it feels so, so good. Whenever I hold a book in my arms I feel incredibly proud but at the same time the story has been detached of myself. It’s not ‘interesting’ anymore. I need something new to ‘get me high’ and that’s writing another book!
Do you like hiking? Does it inspire your writing in any way?